Ken Loach has returned to Cannes after winning the Palme d’Or for I, Daniel Blake back in 2016. Loach has been consistently churning out social realist films dealing with the plight of men and women who are either neglected or exploited by the state. At the age of 82, it would appear that he shows no sign of stopping and his new film Sorry We Missed You sees him on excellent form.
The film is set in Newcastle and tells the story of Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen) and his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood). Long gone are the hedonistic and carefree times when they met at a rave in Manchester (Ricky’s home town). Now, they are struggling to pay the rent and bring up their two children. When Ricky decides to become a parcel delivery guy and his boss tells him all the things he should avoid – losing his scanner, getting behind with deliveries, and so on – we know Loach and writer Paul Laverty are setting the stage for Ricky to do every single one of them.
Loach is keen to depict how everyone is affected by the shitty zero-hour contracts and fake self-employed status of people like Ricky and Abbie (who works as a carer). Abbie hovers over their two latch-key kids via her mobile phone, but we see the teenage son rebelling, despairing at the bleak future that beckons, and a daughter who is all grown-up independence by day and yet who wets the bed at night as her anxieties come to the surface.
Through Abbie’s job we also see a nation unable to care for its elderly and incapacitated; clients – ‘I hate that word’, says Abbie – left alone for hours between one carer and another. Loach paints a portrait of a society that is falling apart and of a government that is abjectly failing its people. Abbie is the beating heart of the family and this film, and Honeywood fills that heart to bursting with her warm and moving performance. Her relationships with her ‘clients’ are affectionate and there is one scene of an elderly woman brushing Abbie’s hair that had me in tears. And as Ricky, Hitchen shows a man valiantly trying to keep his family secure as his relationship begins to fray while offering glimmers of that fun-loving Manchester rave boy of the past.
There is nothing new or surprising in Sorry We Missed You; just Loach’s usual superlative didactic filmmaking. You leave the cinema railing against the sheer awfulness of it all and what’s worse is that Loach has been doing this since Poor Cow was released in 1967. That he still has such subject matter at hand in a country that has learned nothing in the intervening fifty-odd years makes Sorry We Missed You that much more heartbreaking. Instead of a dramatic climax, Loach gives us something worse: more of the same. Ricky is on a hideous treadmill and it’s one that he can never afford to step off.